Our part in the story of some prized wooden mice !
Plus – Haunton’s Georgian legacy ! COR ! ! NICE ?
Well, not just one, but four Georgian CORNICES, and some magnificent Georgian plaster ceiling centrepieces !
To many people, “Haunton Hall” may appear just as a white sign announcing a residential care home as they sweep past in their cars as they enter the village from the west.
It is indeed, a care home and a nursing home accommodating some of our residents in their twilight years, but it is much more than that.
Historic England’s description of its Grade II Listing of the building may tend towards the mediocre, no doubt due to its unsympathetic 20thC additions.
However, there is a former family private chapel, now much altered internally, but with architectural detail ascribed in some references to A.W.N. Pugin. This was built in the 1840s by a prominent Staffordshire Catholic family who later in the century went on to share the inaugural costs of Haunton’s renowned Catholic Church.
Currently, the origins of Haunton Hall are shrouded in relative obscurity, perhaps due to Haunton’s past being overwhelmed by it being mostly enveloped within the 3700 acre Clifton Campville Manor/Estate which remained as a single entity for 800 years until its dispersal by auction of 50+ Lots as recently as 1905.
Haunton Hall is understood to have been built in the 1820s, beyond the “Regency” architectural period. Those influences were still prevalent, but the “Late Georgian” style would, by then, have been predominant. Residential building was also bouncing back from an extended dearth imposed by the privations emanating from the Napoleonic wars.
On the Clfton Campville Parish “Tithe Map” that was prepared in 1836 to enable existing Tithes in Kind to be converted to Annual Rent Charges, Haunton Hall is identifiable and is shown with its associated land to be in the ownership of John Mousley Esq. Shortly afterwards, it is known that Haunton Hall was inherited by Colonel Charles Edward Mousley, who then commissioned the building of the chapel.
After just 8 decades of family occupation, Haunton Hall commenced a now long established institutional use in 1904 when it was acquired by a group of French nuns, The Sisters of St. Joseph of Bordeaux, in order to establish a Convent. This subsequently became St. Joseph’s Convent School for Girls, with boarding and day pupils, which continued for many decades until its eventual closure in 1987
The nuns moved to smaller, newly built Convent buildings within the village, and Haunton Hall’s role as a Care Home emerged in 1989. The Sisters’ significant input to village life ultimately concluded in 2016, when the remaining nuns moved to retirement in Aldridge and the 4 smaller buildings that are their legacy, Chapel House, St. Marys, St. Michaels and St. Josephs have become family homes. They join St. Edwards Cottages, St. Johns Cottages, St. Charles Cottage and the Catholic Church and Presbytery of St. Michaels and St. James to reinforce Haunton’s informal title as the “Village of The Saints”.
Although referred to elsewhere on our website, a brief reminder of Haunton Hall’s other impacts on the village should be added here. Colonel Charles Edward Mousley’s Catholic faith encouraged him to financially support the founding of one of these “saintly” buildings – St Michael’s and St. James’ Catholic Church, but after his death in 1887, Lady Frances Mostyn took the tenancy of the Hall, and she also contributed to the establishment of the Church. Reminders of the faith and generosity of these benefactors remain with us today as both are commemorated within the beautiful Hardman windows that enrich the Church.
What now of Haunton Hall’s “Georgian” legacy ?
Throughout its institutionalised life, Haunton Hall has endured much alteration and internal rearrangement, but the entrance hall with its cantilevered staircase, and three principal ground floor rooms remain largely intact. Their extensive cornices and majestic ceiling centrepieces display the extravagance of the original plasterwork and are an especial legacy of those whose vision created the Hall, at the time when the former Prince Regent eventually reigned as George IV, nearly two centuries ago.
These photographs illustrate the fine timber moulding to the stair carriage and landing fascia.
Here is an interesting photograph of the original facade of the Hall, (probably 1930s) prior to the construction of the brick loggia that now conceals much of the front elevation.
Haunton Hall – a treasury of iconic wooden mice !
The traditional english oak furniture crafted by Robert “Mouseman” Thompson, 1876–1955 and by the small company he established in the village of Kilburn, Yorkshire is known and admired around the world, especially due to the carving of a small mouse that is regarded as a signature on each piece of work.
It is said that Robert Thompson overheard one of his craftsman remarking that “We are all as poor as church mice”, whereupon Robert carved a small mouse on a church screen that he was working on, and the mouse has continued as a trade mark of quality and dedication to craftsmen ever since. His workshop continues to be run by his descendents, under the name of Robert Thompson’s Craftsmen Ltd., with the same ethos, and items incorporating a mouse symbol.
The mouse symbol on each item of furniture takes the craftsman 45 minutes to carve. The carving is specific to an individual craftsman who is responsible for the entire production of each item of furniture, so that it is possible to trace every item to its original maker. Robert Thompson’s own pieces of work can, therefore, still be identified, now a century on from his earliest “Mouseman” work.
Robert received his first commission from the Benedictine Abbey at Ampleforth in 1919, situated not many miles from his home in Kilburn, and a reputation for ecclesiastical furniture complete with signature mice carvings developed thereafter.
It would naturally follow that when the Sisters of St. Joseph were seeking to refurnish the Convent in 1929, procurement from the “Mouseman” was considered, and the Company won the contract to furnish each bedroom with a suite comprising a single door wardrobe, a dressing chest & stool and a single bed. Other items of furniture were also acquired. There are records of an oak “Lang” settle purchased for £8, an octagonal library table for £5 in 1932, and a pair of bookends depicting a horned devil and a monk for £3, that were made for the Mother Superior in 1932.
Wherever “Mouseman” furniture exists, particularly in ecclesiastical premises, a popular challenge has developed, to seek out the signature mouse carvings, especially by visiting children. Imagine the curiosity that would have prevailed amongst the girls attending St. Joseph’s Convent School ? Former pupils who still live locally, wistfully recall that curiosity, and similar reminiscences can be read on the Facebook page for former pupils, and seems to have relieved the austerity and strictures of Convent School life which also appear as an oft repeated memory.
With the closure of the Convent and its School, and the recurring downsizing of the Sisters’ premises it appears that Haunton Hall’s legacy of iconic Mouseman furniture has been wholly dispersed. Items of furniture particularly from the Arts and Craft Revival era of Robert Thompson’s personal input, regularly feature in furniture auctions, and the Haunton Legacy that is evident is the valuable provenance associated with items that were “commissioned in the 1930s by St. Joseph’s Convent, Haunton Hall”.
The photograph below is of a St. Joseph’s bedroom suite, that featured in a recent auction where it passed to the successful bidder for £20,000.
The “dimpled/honeycomb” effect on the surface of the furniture is a particular feature of “Mouseman” oak furniture and is achieved by working the surface with the ancient carpentry tool of an adze.
The 3 items listed previously with their 1930’s purchase prices of £8, £5 and £3 have also featured in auction publications in recent years, where the sale prices were respectively £5400, £4200 and £2250.
These furnishings acquired almost a century ago, with humble intent, have clearly generated enthusiastic interest at auction, and the sale prices that have been recorded suggest that an exceptionally significant historic treasure was once housed in this quiet corner of rural Staffordshire.
Haunton Hall continues as a Registered Care Home providing “Nursing, Residential and Dementia Residential Care”, one of two establishments owned by Blue Mar Limited. The Hall contributes to village life with events such as a Summer Fayre, Christmas Fayre and a charity car wash. The many trees within the grounds including some magnificent signature trees, seemingly another legacy of the Hall’s Georgian pedigree, continue to provide a sylvan backdrop to many vistas within the village.